This project began last winter as an experiment. A self-assignment actually, a challenge, or even a test, to see if a bit of human intervention on my part could convert a mature aspen in a small patch of woods to a courtship stage for an amorous male ruffed grouse.

Last February, on a cold, grey afternoon, I trekked into the woods, chainsaw in hand. My plan was to drop a mature aspen tree in a small patch of woods less than an acre is size on land I own south of town. Ultimately my goal was to see if, with my intervention, a male ruffed grouse would adopt the log as his stage for one of the most unique courtship rituals in all bird creation -- drumming.

In my world as a freelancer, projects like my drumming log experiment require forethought. On the wintry day I downed the aspen tree I took time to snap a few “selfies” of my work. It was not an easy task, mentally, because, come spring, if a male grouse didn’t agree with my choice of logs, I’d never have a use for the images I took. In a way I was sort of setting myself up for failure. If my project failed -- and that was likely -- the images I took beforehand would have no value, and would likely have ended up on some hard drive, only to forgotten or eventually deleted.

With the aspen tree down, my task completed, I had only to wait until spring. Now and then, during winter, I checked the log for grouse tracks in the snow. Sometimes grouse visit their drumming logs even during the heart of winter, maybe dreaming of spring, when the days are longer, a time when he might attract a mate. Each time I checked the logs there was no sign of a grouse.

Then one day in March I heard the unmistakable thump, thump, thump of a grouse drumming and, from the direction of the sound and its proximity, I knew a hopeful male grouse had found my log to his liking.

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My next move was to place a photography blind within “shooting distance” of the log, and hopefully attain photos that would put the finishing touches to my man-made drumming log project.

And that’s just what transpired.

For the past month I’ve photographed the grouse on many occasions -- while he was drumming, strutting, even napping at times. I’ve had a ringside seat to one of nature’s most spectacular events.

And get this -- I can see and hear the grouse drumming from my house.

BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at You also can visit his website at